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Driver sentenced for double-fatal crash

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judge requires 500 hours community service, scholarship donation; Victims’ families unhappy

By Tracy Harris

Emotional friends and family filled the courtroom Tuesday as a plea agreement was filed in a reckless homicide case from a double-fatal car crash last Thanksgiving.

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The driver, Robert P. “Patrick” Kane, 33, entered an Alford guilty plea to two counts of reckless homicide.

While driving home from holiday celebrations around 4:30 p.m. Nov. 25, 2010, Kane’s vehicle crossed the I-71 median, became airborne and collided with another vehicle before coming to rest in the ditch.

Adrian Hightower, 19, and Madeline Thomas, 17, occupants of the other vehicle, both suffered serious injuries in the crash and died the next day.

An Oldham County grand jury indicted Kane in May for reckless homicide.

Kane’s family was heading home to Buckner after attending Thanksgiving celebrations. 

Kane and his young daughter were northbound on I-71 in his Chevy Trailblazer when the vehicle crossed the median and became airborne. 

The Trailblazer collided with a southbound Nissan Altima driven by Hightower. Thomas was the only passenger in the vehicle.

Kane, who was not wearing his seat belt, also suffered severe injuries, including head trauma, broken pelvis and broken ankle. 

His 5-year-old daughter was properly restrained and suffered a minor head injury along with cuts and bruises.

Prosecutor Barry Moore said investigators recovered little physical evidence from the crash scene. Heavy rain that day prevented skid marks, and emergency vehicles crossed the same section of the median.

Moore said the car’s data recorder — similar to those used to investigate airplane crashes – revealed information about the moments before the crash. 

The recording shows Kane traveling 75 mph five seconds before the collision with the pedal fully pressed down. Three seconds before the crash, the vehicle was traveling 78 mph. Acceleration was zero in the next second and speed still 78 mph. In the last second before impact, Kane had applied the brakes while traveling 68 mph.

Police initially suspected alcohol as a factor in the crash due to the odor of alcohol on Kane and his vehicle, but Kane and his wife had purchased gifts at a liquor store less than an hour earlier. Those bottles broke during the crash.

Kane’s toxicology report shows his blood alcohol content to be .00 at the time of the crash. 

Prosecutor Barry Moore said witnesses testified both that Kane was driving aggressively and that he was not, and that the commonwealth had no additional evidence to show his conduct.

Kane remembers nothing about the crash due to his head injuries, Moore said. 

An Alford plea allows a defendant to enter a guilty plea for bargaining purposes without admitting guilt. The defendant also acknowledges there may be sufficient evidence for a conviction.

The plea agreement defers prosecution for three years. During that time, Kane must not violate the law — including no traffic tickets for reckless driving or excessive speeding. 

The agreement also includes 500 hours of community service and a $9,000 donation to a scholarship fund at Seneca High School, which the victims attended. 

After three years, if Kane meets all the terms of the agreement, the case will be dismissed. 

If he violates the agreement, he will be sentenced to five to 10 years in prison.

Moore told Judge Karen Conrad that he met with the victims’ families on several occasions to discuss the case and the plea agreement. However, the families were opposed to the details of the plea.

Nancy Thomas, Madeline’s mother, brought a copy of her daughter’s senior picture to the witness stand and read from a prepared statement. 

“I find (the agreement) to be quite insulting to the dead and living,” she said. “If all this is OK with the judicial system, why do we even have laws?”

Thomas said she isn’t a vengeful person, “only asking for justice.”

Rosa Sears, Adrian Hightower’s mother, spoke through tears about her son’s battle with leukemia. 

Diagnosed at age 14, he completed his final treatment a few months before he died. 

Sears said she felt compassionate toward Kane and his family soon after the crash, but now believes the crash could have been avoided.

“The Commonwealth Attorney’s office is sending the wrong message,” she said. “It’s an insult not only to our families but to the memories of our children.”

Sears said the Commonwealth Attorney is supposed to represent victims, but she feels “their voices haven’t been heard.”

Madeline’s father, Robert, spoke briefly and asked Kane to look him in the eye. 

“I want you to remember my face for the rest of your life,” he said.

Kane, who made eye contact with the parents throughout the statements, wiped tears from his eyes before reading his statement out loud.

He said he had wanted to speak to the victims’ families for the past year, but his pastor advised him to let the families grieve.

“I wish I could have a do-over but I can’t,” he said. “All I can do is live each day the way God wants me to.”

Kane recalled his brother’s death 10 years ago and said the pain never goes away, and every time he visits his brother’s grave, he goes to those of Adrian and Madeline, who are buried nearby.

“Every day I live with this,” he said.